Something has been bothering me, nagging at me for a long time. I have pushed the thoughts away, ignored them even as they triggered panic attacks and crippling anxiety.
Let’s go back a few years.
When my political campaigning started to get noticed, I took my name off of Twitter; ostensibly because I simply didn’t want my tweets linked to my name. I told myself I wanted anonymity but now I realise what I actually wanted was gender ambiguity. I liked that people didn’t know my gender. A lot of people who came cross my tweets assumed that I’m a woman, perhaps because I’m honest about mental and physical illness, and my diagnosis at the time was ME, which is largely something seen to affect women. Most of the time I haven’t corrected anyone in their assumptions. I didn’t mind being referred to as she or they, whereas I actually feel uncomfortable when people use he/him or my name. I’ve had horrible anxiety when my name and photo have been in news reports because that meant being exposed to people who knew me online but hadn’t seen my face before. I even struggled to bring myself to set up a wheelchair fundraiser because I desperately wanted to avoid putting my name and photo on it.
Going further back, I’ve always hated stereotypical “man talk”. I avoided a lot because I didn’t have many friends and the people I chose to talk to were computer nerds like me. I was a loner and I mostly read books or spent time on my computer in preference to talking to people about topics I hated. It’s hard to tell how much of that was down to autism and how much was other reasons. Over the years I have suppressed or kept hidden things I liked that men “aren’t supposed” to be interested in.
When social media came along it gave me a chance to be myself in a way that I hadn’t shown before. I was able to say things that I could not in person. I was honest about physical and mental illness in a way that society says men are not. I could talk about feelings and depression. I also became more outspoken. (And sometimes an arsehole.) The biggest change for me was that the vast majority of those who I became friends with online were women or non-binary gender. I became friends with several transgender people and I learnt a lot from them. A lot more transgender people found me online, perhaps because of how I present myself and what I talk about there. I found myself increasingly drawn in to support transgender friends where I could. It felt personal to me. I continued to leave my own gender unspecified and I continued to panic when I tried to think about why.
Then a few weeks ago I made a flippant comment which involved saying – albeit indirectly – that I was cisgendered (Not trans) and male. My friend expressed surprise, and I tried to laugh it off, making some reply about hiding it well. But this time I didn’t fool myself. I started to think about it, pushing through the anxiety to do so. It was hard but I went back to re-read a lot of things about gender and actually ask myself the questions that I hadn’t wanted to ask. I let slip to some friends what was bothering me, before having a panic attack and trying to dismiss what I had said. Then a couple of friends offered to listen and for the first time I managed to say the questions that I had been suppressing.
I am not entirely sure what else this means or where it is going. I simply feel like I am not a man. I can’t continue to say I’m a man when that causes me so much anxiety. I don’t feel like I’m a woman and I don’t intend to transition or take hormones. (It shouldn’t make any difference to other people if I did, but sadly it almost certainly would.) I am probably not going to change how I dress, because how I dress is boots and jeans and t-shirt, just like my wife does. I’ll probably continue to avoid selfies because I still hate how I look. (I need to think about that.) I don’t intend to make a big deal of this on official paperwork (yet) because I am not certain of anything. But illness means I mostly interact with people online anyway.
In some ways I feel like I’m a fraud, wanting to be nonbinary to fit in with my friends or so when men are being shit I can say “Not me!” but that is not the case. I am not doing this to avoid anything, to be trendy, to fit in or to be inconvenient. I am doing this because my gender has caused me pain and discomfort and now I finally understand that for what it is.
One thing that has come up repeatedly when I have been talking to friends is that anecdotally at least, there seems to be some correlation between autism spectrum and variation from gender norms. I think that is very interesting and would like to find out more about that.
I don’t think what I have explained here is even that new or uncommon. It may be self-selection bias in my social circles but I think there are more people now able to express that they are not happy about their assigned gender and able to put a name to what they are feeling. I hope that by writing this I can encourage more people to talk about it and perhaps make binary gender a lot less important to society. So much of our society is labeled with gender when it has no relevance. If that changed, maybe I wouldn’t have had so much anxiety about where I fit.
So here I am. I am non-binary. I don’t fit either end of the spectrum. I ask you to use gender neutral pronouns for me – they/their/them, not he. I don’t want any title and certainly not Mr. I don’t know if the problem is with society or me or both. But for now a small language hack will help me to deal with the problem.